by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington, chief spokesperson for the #EndPrisonSlavery movement and correspondent for Fight Toxic Prisons
Revolutionary Greetings, Comrades, Allies & Friends!
As some of you may know, I was paroled by the state of Texas and I am now serving a relatively short prison sentence in federal custody.
My federal time is related to a supervised release violation that occurred in 2007. I left the federal halfway house in Houston without permission. I was given a 24-month sentence of which I have about 18 months to do.
Due to the passage of the First Step Act, I may be eligible for something called pre-release custody. I am focusing on six months of “home confinement.”
Some of you may be aware of the fact that I have recently been offered the position of assistant editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. We will be discussing this in more detail in the near future but for now I want to tell all of you about my new unit of assignment, USP Beaumont.
I arrived here in Beaumont, Texas, on the evening of Sept. 14, 2019. The U.S. Penitentiary at Beaumont is part of a federal prison complex which includes medium, low and satellite camp facilities.
The USP is the highest security level in federal custody and customarily houses prisoners with rather lengthy prison sentences and who have engaged in extraordinarily violent acts. However, the USP has also been home to prisoners like me, who have defined themselves as political activists and dedicated servants of the people.
Make no mistake about it, comrades, I was sent to this high security facility because I continue to speak TRUTH to power and I won’t be silenced – period.
Upon arrival, I was made aware that the USP had been on lockdown since Aug. 15, 2019. A bloody incident had occurred between some groups of prisoners.
As I told my mentor and friend, Professor Victor Wallis, PhD, the #1 rule of survival in federal prison is to mind your own business! And the #2 rule is to watch your mouth. So please excuse me if I don’t provide you with many details of the incident that resulted in this extended lockdown.
I can tell you this: Historically, USP Beaumont has been known as “bloody” Beaumont. Prisoners are stabbed and die here! I’ve never been housed at a USP before! Some things happen for strange reasons, don’t they, comrades?
Getting the lay of the land
Today is Sept. 15, and we are returning slowly to normal operations at the USP. The most glaring and remarkable tactic and strategy the prisoncrats have implemented here among the prisoners is the “divide and rule” strategy. There is not much unity at all among the Black, White, Mexican, Asian or Indigenous First Nations prisoners. People here have divided themselves up into “cars” based on geographical locations.
Personally, I have lived in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area for much of my life. However, I declare myself as a Muslim first; therefore, I will be placed and categorized in the “Muslim” car.
This is rather frustrating to me because I have the ability to help numerous prisoners here by amplifying their voices. However, by the nature of this divide and rule strategy, I must carefully navigate the compound.
Those from the other “cars” or geographical locations don’t readily welcome an “outsider” who seeks to provide help. There is an air of skepticism and suspicion that lingers at all USPs. The operative phrase here is “proceed with caution.”
What’s funny is the prison guards here do not divide themselves up in “cars” or geographical cliques. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and esprit du corps among the pigs!
Getting together to get free
From past experience, the main way to promote unity among prisoners and bring everyone together is to find a common cause. For federal prisoners at this USP, the common cause is freedom! The First Step Act has provided an avenue for federal prisoners to file a motion with the court, which allows us to request reduction of our prison sentences citing “compelling or extraordinary circumstances.”
Comrades, one of my goals is to help federal prisoners who have served lengthy sentences to file these “new” motions in order to help them gain freedom!
You see, a lot of people wonder why I’ve become so interested in anarchism lately. It is my belief that anarchy is freedom!
Anarchy is not violence and Guy Fawkes masks; anarchism is freedom of thought! Freedom of speech! Freedom of movement! And if you call yourself an anarchist, then abolishing prisons and setting captives free should be a part of your lifestyle!
Tropical Storm Imelda hits USP Beaumont
As a prison abolitionist and human rights activist, I am very passionate and dedicated to the causes and the people my comrades and I support. And, as a journalist, I am duty-bound to report the objective facts about the things I personally experience and witness.
On Sept. 19, 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda bombarded the city of Beaumont, Texas, and the surrounding areas with a deluge of torrential rain.
Here at USP Beaumont, the federal prison where I am currently housed, we had no electricity whatsoever. That meant no lights, no air-conditioning. Our toilets could not be flushed. It was really bad.
At the time that the storm reached its height, we had been locked in our cells since the evening of Sept. 18. The federal correctional officer working our housing unit, BA-1 Building, was a bald-headed white man with a thick goatee who we call “Big Heath.” Mr. Heath is a big guy and kind of looks like a biker dude.
Like many officers working that night shift, Mr. Heath was trapped like all of us. The non-stop rain had flooded all the highways and local roads leading too and away from USP Beaumont. The federal prison is built on a natural flood plane and not only was the compound flooded but our emergency generator for Building 1 was submerged in water.
Big Heath may not win any congeniality contests but he didn’t abandon us! He stayed the course of the storm. Mr. Heath worked about 30 hours straight and made sure we had food as well as bottled drinking water. Other than that, we were on our own.
The concrete cells at USP Beaumont were not made to sustain human life without the aid of the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system. As the sun set on Sept. 19, we lacked adequate oxygen and fresh air in our cell. My cellmate who we call “D” has asthma and the lack of proper ventilation in our cell brought on a vicious asthma attack!
D first started coughing profusely. His breaths became labored. As he wheezed and gasped for breath, he staggered to his locker and grabbed his inhalers. It was very dark by then – no lights, no air, and the asthma attack persisted. I began to worry and think of how to help my cellmate.
As if on cue and just in the nick of time we heard voices and saw flashlight beams. It was two lieutenants from the day shift, a Lt. Franks and Lt. Feazicus. They were yelling loudly to all of us who were trapped in these cells saying: “Hey, fellas! We are going to pop open your food tray slots so you can get some fresh air!”
Both D and I smiled and let out a sigh of relief. Regardless of any of the situations that I have found myself in, I always acknowledge that God is always in control!
Lt. Feazicus, Lt. Franks as well as Mr. Heath and other federal officers provided us with red plastic haz-mat bags to defecate in! Yes, you heard me correctly; this was our reality here. Believe it!
These officers also brought large barrels of water so we could manually flush our toilets by pouring water on top of the large amounts of human waste which had accumulated in our toilets.
This is a short essay which tells a story of people helping people during a natural disaster. Many people in Amerikan society are brainwashed in such a manner that they despise incarcerated human beings.
Please remember that 85 percent of all current prisoners in the United States will eventually be released. Are not all human beings deserving to be treated with dignity and respect and be housed in humane settings?
One observation that I must highlight is this: Two years after Hurricane Harvey and the Federal Bureau of Prisons still has not crafted a realistic emergency evacuation plan for USP Beaumont.
Locking human beings down in concrete cages and then sitting on your hands until the natural disaster takes its course is not an effective plan! As I said before, USP Beaumont is built on top of a flood plane. Tropical storms and hurricanes in this geographical location are only going to get more severe and intense.
Climate change is real!
Prisoners’ lives matter!
We must continue abolish all prisons, especially the toxic ones!
Sisters and brothers and comrades from all corners of the globe, if you support the work that my comrades and I do, then please by all means necessary, share this piece on social media. Demand today that the new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, Mrs. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, take a long hard look at the conditions here at USP Beaumont. Ask her to visit us down here and when she does, ask her to interview me.
Your soldier for change, Comrade Malik. As I always say: “The best antiseptic for injustice is sunlight!” Let’s shine a bright light on USP Beaumont.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, All Power to the People!
Send our brother some love and light: Keith H. Washington, 34481-037, USP Beaumont, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont, TX 77720.